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"Stakes is High: On Spike Lee's 'Chi-Raq'": A great essay from K. Austin Collins for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

“The film I experienced is not quite the film advertised. It is only partially true that ‘Chi-Raq’ is a colorful, outlandish satire. In fact, tonally, the film is practically split in two, and with the help of his actors and his outstanding cinematographer Matthew Libatique (‘Black Swan,’ ‘Straight Outta Compton’), Lee manages to carve out two distinct visual and moral worlds, weaving them together. One half concerns the sex strike of Lysistrata and the lives and lifestyles of Englewood’s rival gangs. It’s filmed and performed with an abundance of visual and theatrical artifice befitting, among other things, rap and R&B videos, black folklore, and Kubrick. It’s the stuff recognizable from the trailer. Dark and flush with color, it is captured with a camera wedded to the beat of that world’s spirited musicality. But the film’s other mode is something else. Emotionally raw and brightly lit, this other half, which concerns Irene, the mother whose young child is killed in the film’s enraging opening act, replaces artifice with the solemnity of high tragedy — tragedy, it should be said, that is lent an intense air of nonfiction by the presence of Hudson, whose mother, brother, and seven-year-old nephew were all gunned down in Chicago, Hudson’s hometown, in 2008. The pain that reaches into the film from off-camera when Hudson is onscreen — pain given the essence of documentary, thanks to her presence — is indescribable. And it’s not only her. Among the Spartans and Trojans are a few men in wheelchairs and on dialysis whose injuries are not fictions. At one point, Dolmedes marches one injured man from each gang into the frame to point out their exasperating similarities — namely, their wounds. These men are true alumni of South Side gang violence, whose wounds become as much a signature of their belonging as their gangs’ colors.”


"The Danish Girl": Sally Jane Black pens a scathingly brilliant review of Tom Hooper's biopic on Letterboxd.

“There is a performative aspect to gender, but being transgender is not all about performance. Gender is complicated, made more so by the fact that it is socially constructed as well as self-imposed. Sex, biological sex, is something many consider to be innate, intrinsic. Julia Serano clarifyingly and empoweringly refers to the subconscious sex, an intrinsic part of all people that defines us; this is important. Being transgender is innate. It is part of us--part of me, and part of other trans people. The thing Serano suggests is asking people who identify as cis to imagine how much money it would take to convince them to have sexual reassignment surgery. In her experience, most people are horrified by the thought. There's more to it than that, but the basic idea is that if you can't imagine changing your assigned sex, that feeling you have when you try is what transgender people experience when they think of being stuck in their assigned sex. There is also a history in this world of transgender people being forced to perform as themselves for at least a year before cisgender gatekeepers would allow them to transition. This film takes the idea of gender as performative and uses it--like so many pieces of trans-focused film--to emphasize the superficial aspects of being transgender, and in doing so, sets a narrative that comes with a built-in trial period before setting up surgery as the be all end all. Part of this is, of course, because of how Lili's life progressed, but the choice to do this story at all is in part predicated on having that narrative. The end result is a transgender story that suggests the clothes make the woman, that equates behaviors of some sort of fetishistic nature to being trans, that makes it clear that Lili's story is about learning how to be a woman. Not learning how to be herself.”


"World Builder: Production Designer K.K. Barrett Teams with Kid Koala": As reported by KCET's Shelley Leopold.

“While the good-natured Barrett likes to say he's only been taking the art of production design seriously for the last 15 years, he steps into the director's role for his current project, ‘Nufonia Must Fall,’ Canadian DJ/producer Kid Koala's live-action graphic novel. The intricate, high tech theater piece plays UCLA's Royce Hall on January 29. It's a sprawling, black-and-white love story between a girl and a robot, played out in front of three cameras featuring a cast of tiny puppets and 12 revolving, dramatically pre-lit sets. The miniature protagonists are deliberately expressionless, so that the audience can project their own emotions into the story, helped by the fact there is no dialogue, only music and sound effects performed by Kid Koala and the Afiara Quartet. The audience experiences the ‘live film’ via a large screen, or can take a quick look down to peek in on the puppeteers. ‘I always like a new adventure, to do what's unexpected of me,’ demurs Barrett recently via phone. ‘It was an opportunity to develop some filmic ideas over a number of performances. As for live stage direction, it's something as a musician you inadvertently do every night.’However, this wasn't the first time Barrett has dabbled in live theater. He collaborated with Karen O on the visual depiction of her then-secret album, ‘Stop the Virgens’ in 2011. The resulting eight performances included a cast of 40 dancing girls and other behind-the-scenes music makers, Money Mark and Nick Zinner.”


"As Terrence Malick releases his latest film, 'Knight of Cups,' his methods remain as elusive as the man himself": Mark Olsen of The Los Angeles Times investigates.

“When ‘Knight of Cups’ premiered early in 2015 at the Berlin International Film Festival, Bale spoke in a news conference about Malick's unusual production methods. The actor said Malick ‘didn't tell us what it was about … with each and every scene I didn't know what I was going to be doing.’ Given that Malick does not give interviews, producers Sarah Green and Nicolas Gonda are often left to demystify the filmmaker's idiosyncratic process. The production team — with regular collaborators including cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer Jack Fisk — has learned to be nimble and responsive, moving, in Gonda's words, ‘like a dance company.’ ‘There wasn't a script in a conventional way. There was a treatment that essentially acted as the creative roadmap for the film,’ explained Gonda. ‘With Christian it was incredible,’ he added. ‘He was obviously such a good sport and had so much trust in Terry as a filmmaker. For the majority of the production, those around him would know much more of what the next minute or the next hour would look like than he did. But it did enable this totally original experience to occur where none of us knew ultimately what would happen.’”


"Emma Thompson Honors Alan Rickman with a Sweet Tribute About Their Longtime Friendship": Reposted by Bustle's Martha Sorren.

“Alan was my friend and so this is hard to write because I have just kissed him goodbye. What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humor, intelligence, wisdom and kindness. His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word. The intransigence which made him the great artist he was—his ineffable and cynical wit, the clarity with which he saw most things, including me, and the fact that he never spared me the view. I learned a lot from him. He was the finest of actors and directors. I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with his face next. I consider myself hugely privileged to have worked with him so many times and to have been directed by him. He was the ultimate ally. In life, art and politics. I trusted him absolutely. He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.”

Image of the Day

Women You Should Know shares this essential letter from an 8-year-old asking Hasbro how they could "leave out Rey."

Video of the Day

TRUMPCUSSION from Nelson Carvajal on Vimeo.

Nelson Carvajal mixes Will Smith's career-best performance in "Concussion" with Donald Trump's blithering bid for the presidency in his latest marvelous mash-up.

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the former Literary Editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 

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